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Students Learn About Conserving Water, Environmental Careers

Nixyaawii Community School students learned about environmental careers and how conserve water Thursday at city of Pendleton water treatment plants.

All students of the Mission high school saw — and smelled — how the city refines its drinking water and purifies its wastewater before discharging it into the Umatilla River.

At the water treatment plant, environmental specialist Karen King caught her visitors’ attention by explaining how technical interests can lead to a career in math or science.

“If you’re a video gamer you may be someone who in the future learns to program these kinds of things,” King said as she pointed to its drinking water control panel.

The computerized system controls the entire drinking water infrastructure, overseen by one man — electrician Tim Smith.

Smith can monitor Umatilla water levels on computers at the Goad Road treatment plant, and receives an automated call as soon as anything goes wrong, explained water superintendent Rick Baltzor. Smith once corrected a glitch from his laptop while on a trip in Hawaii.

Nolan Nez, a senior planning to study engineering at Oregon State University or Eastern Oregon University in the fall, said he was impressed by the facility’s efficiency. While he has not decided what kind of engineer he wants to be, Nez said he may consider an environmental or civil track.

City employees also explained the environmental friendliness of their operations.

Both facilities are partially powered by solar panels. The wastewater plant receives energy from the same gas that gives parts of the plant an unpleasant smell: methane.

Students also learned how to be responsible water consumers.

At the wastewater treatment facility, they found that many medications — whether discarded in the toilet or through human waste — stay in the water system even after purification.

Public works director Bob Patterson said he hoped the tour would teach that water is not free.

Language arts teacher Mary Green said the environmental lessons are especially important for seniors.

“You’re seniors now — you’re going to be making decisions for the Tribe and you need to be informed,” Green said.

Contact Chris Rizer at or 541-966-0836.

This story originally appeared in East Oregonian.

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